Maybe a famous businessperson, a religious figure or politician comes to mind. Or perhaps, it could be someone who you know personally, such as a teacher or a friend. You can find people who are leaders almost anywhere you go.
However, simply having the duties of a leader doesn’t make a person an effective leader. So how can you actually become an effective leader and what role does emotional intelligence play in leadership?
Here is a brief overview of what emotional intelligence is and some tips to help you improve your own leadership skills by developing your own emotional intelligence.
Harvard Business Review provides a detailed history of the term explaining that it was coined in 1990 in a research paper by two psychology professors, John D. Mayer of UNH and Peter Salovey of Yale. In an article published by HBR years later, Mayer defined it in the following way:
“From a scientific (rather than a popular) standpoint, emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and others’ emotions. It doesn’t necessarily include the qualities (like optimism, initiative, and self-confidence) that some popular definitions ascribe to it.”
In fact, the term was not related to business until over a decade later when Rutgers psychologist Daniel Goleman performed a study with the aim of establishing the importance of emotional intelligence in business leadership.
In 1998, in one of HBR’s most widely read articles, “What Makes a Leader,” Goleman states that the most effective leaders are those individuals who have a high degree of emotional intelligence:
“The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. My research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.”
Emotional intelligence can be summed up in five components, which allow leaders to connect with, recognize, and learn from their own behaviors, as well as others:
In reviewing the pillars of emotional intelligence it becomes clear why some people become effective leaders where others fail. That is because some people may be strong in some of the areas of emotional intelligence while completely lacking in other areas.
A leader that lack emotional intelligence is unable to effectively gauge the needs, desires, and expectations of the individuals that they are responsible for leading. By reacting inline with their emotions without any consideration for how their responses might be perceived by others, they create mistrust which ultimately puts their leadership role and relationships at risk.
This is because people who act out of pure emotion often fail to understand that their responses are often erratic and are often unfair to the people who they unleash them upon. Good leaders who have emotional intelligence understand the true impact of their emotions, both with regard to verbal and nonverbal communications, so that they do not act in a manner that is detrimental to the outcomes that they want to produce.
While the failings of the leader might first lead to mistrust and disloyalty among the group members, eventually the fallout extends to the leader and ultimately the organisation itself. When a leader lacks emotional intelligence, they almost always lack the foresight to see that the damage that a lack of good leadership causes.
In addition, the damage isn’t always temporary either. In some cases, poor leadership can result in permanent consequences. It could be reasoned that a lack of emotional intelligence among some leaders is most likely at the root of some of history’s worst incidences.
On the other hand, emotionally intelligent leaders are able to deliver some exceptional results that other leaders can’t, mainly as a result of their ability to anticipate the reactions of others and respond in a manner that is effective.
Emotionally intelligent leaders don’t wait until the damage has already happened to respond to a potential fallout. If they know that bad news is probably on the way, they do whatever possible to address the situation and take measures to prevent the worse possible situation before it occurs.
Given that emotionally intelligent leaders are often “the voice of reason” during a crisis, they inspire loyalty, trust, and performance from those that they are responsible for leading. This is because these individuals can recognise that an emotionally intelligent leader has a skill set that they lack and is truly the best person for the job to lead them under difficult circumstances.
Now that you understand just how important emotional intelligence is for leadership, you can begin to develop the attributes that allow you to develop emotional intelligence. Below are some of the steps that you will need to take:
Self-assessment can be done by first looking at the decisions that we make to evaluate when we’ve made good decisions and when we have made poor ones. Self-assessment is done by first connecting with your own emotions, accepting them, and making yourself aware of how they impact your everyday decisions and behaviours.
It’s also important to note that people who are self-aware are neither overly critical nor unrealistically optimistic. They are honest with themselves at the deepest level which allows them to be honest with others. As a result, self-awareness should not be confused with optimism as being optimistic or responding in a positive manner may actually be the wrong response in certain situations that leaders face.
Developing discipline allows you to control your emotions so that they are redirected in order to put the best interest of those that you are leading first. Leaders should always remain calm given that losing composure is nothing more than a sign of stress. When you are calm you can also communicate more effectively.
Self-motivation is the force that drives you to do things. To be an effective leader, you need to have motivation beyond money to do your job as a leader. People who are self-motivated are more organised, practice good time management, have higher self-esteem, and have greater confidence.
By understanding what motivates you, you uncover your own personal hidden agendas as a leader. Given that we all work better when we enjoy what we are doing, you can become more emotionally intelligent when you understand why you want to be a leader.
To develop your motivation, you should get to know others who are positive and enthusiastic. It is a lot easier to stay motivated if others around you are motivated as well. You should also read, study, and talk to others regularly in order to build your knowledge. When you are curious about others and the world around you, you will feel more motivated. Finally, if you procrastinate a lot, you’ll need to get in the habit of minimising distractions and work on improving your time management skills.
Empathy allows you to see the world from another person’s point of view so that you can understand how they might feel in a certain situation. The more you can relate to the people that you are leading, the better you are at understanding their motivations and grievances.
You can’t be an effective leader if you aren’t good at making relationships. In fact, relationship building is essential to developing greater emotional intelligence. Communication skills are important for managing your relationships and you must be able to do it effectively.
Misunderstandings and failures to communicate are usually the root cause of the majority of problems between people. When a leader fails to communicate effectively, the people being led often feel frustrated, angry, and confused. By regularly involving yourself in exercises that are designed to build your communication skills, you can vastly improve your emotional intelligence and ultimately your leadership abilities.
As organisations become more aware of the value of emotional intelligence, they will begin to recruit and promote people who have developed strong emotional intelligence. Therefore, it is in your best interest to continue to develop your emotional intelligence as you plan for future leadership roles.
Whether your desire to become more emotionally intelligent at work or in your personal life, developing the factors of emotional intelligence can substantially improve your life and your relationships with others.